Blue Spring: Oh the huge manatees


Blue Spring’s consistent 72-degree springs make the state park a swimmer’s paradise year-round — depending on the species.

The 2,600-acre park in Orange City is a summertime haven for Central Florida swimmers with its cool waters and a wintertime oasis that makes it a world-class manatee watching destination.

And it’s less than an hour’s drive from downtown Orlando.

From November to March the tributary spring of the St. Johns River is crowded with the blubbery manatees who seek refuge there as other body waters get chilly.

During the summer months, it’s packed with swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers using that spring as a reprieve from Central Florida’s sweltering heat.

The spring starts at a limestone cave and certified divers can navigate the 120-foot-deep crevice.

Those on the surface can innertube the 1/8-mile stretch between docks, climb out of the spring water and hike back upstream for another go.

Water fun season was at its height in September, when a 10-mile canoe, kayak and paddleboard race called the St. Johns River Paddle Battle was slated to start at the park.

The winter months culminate with the Orange City Blue Spring Manatee Festival, a celebration of the sea cow.

“It’s known as one of the best places anywhere to see manatees,” said Larry Fooks.

Watchers crowd with cameras to view the manatees and their young wait out the winter season in spring-fed comfort.

Park staff have been known to count more than 500 manatees in the small body of water at times.

Manatee season tends to run from November to February and the park is closed to swimmers then. The best times for watching manatees are in January when the air is coldest and the river is swarmed with the gray mammals.

It’s also then that the park’s spacious fields, playground and concessions make it an ideal place for a winter-time picnic.

January is when the state park is the most crowded too. Lines at the entrance can stretch hours when the park hits capacity, Fooks said.

The park also features six cabins, a campground, hiking and a historic homestead from the Thursby family that first used the land in 1872 during the steamboat era to ship citrus fruit.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Travel

Taking laps of luxury at a Vail resort
Taking laps of luxury at a Vail resort

On a bright, Colorado bluebird day in January, I found myself slaloming through an evergreen forest at high speed on skis, madly chasing my husband, who was pushing his own gear to its limits. Every muscle in my body burned as we flew through Beaver Creek Resort's Royal Elk Glades, an expert-only zone that demands tight turns, the occasional jump off...
Japan's Byodoin temple all aglow
Japan's Byodoin temple all aglow

The Phoenix Hall of Byodoin temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Uji, Japan, glows at night during a trial illumination on Friday. The luminous hall, a national treasure, and colorful autumn leaves of Japanese maple trees are reflected on the surface of the water. Monsho Kamii, the temple's chief priest, said: "With the recent drop in temperatures...
Family travel: Planning for year ahead

It’s that time of year when we review recent adventures and plan for the year ahead. Here are five ideas to inspire your family’s travels:  1. Travel for adventure. Stoke your family’s passion for new experiences with Lindblad Expeditions and partner, National Geographic, through their recently launched Global Explorer&rsquo...
7 Cyber Monday travel deals
7 Cyber Monday travel deals

Cyber Monday, on Nov. 27 this year, isn’t just a day to score discounts on retail goods — in the world of travel, it means attractive deals on hotel stays, safaris, group tours and more.  But buy with caution, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and the founder of Atmosphere Research Group. “Travel brands discount...
Holiday gift guide: Travel
Holiday gift guide: Travel

This year's gifts will help the travelers in your life stay charged, organized, caffeinated and sand-free - and document their every move, of course.  Aspinal of London: Multi Currency Wallet   The sleek wallet has four deep pouches - two per side - to separate cash and coins from different countries. You can match the colored zipper...
More Stories